Ch. 26 – Christmas in London
After we got our room, we went in and took showers. The Russell Hotel was rather posh. I was invited to spend the next couple of nights with Jillian and her mother – that was nice of them. We took showers and set out to see London Bridge. We also spied a McDonald’s and went in and pigged out on Yankee food! It was so good.
We then took the Underground, or the Tube, to Picadilly Circus and went shopping at a mall called the Trocadero. There were lights and Christmas decorations everywhere. I bought an Oxford University t-shirt and a postcard of a monkey in a Beefeater’s uniform for Pablo (he had a thing about chimps…).
After shopping, we retired to a pub called Maxwell’s. It was more of a Bennigan’s type of place – brassy and cute. We were happy to find out that it was Happy Hour – a custom that I didn’t think existed outside of the United States (I came to find out later in life that it is not something practiced everywhere in the United States – leave it to being raised in South Louisiana to spoil your for other places!).
Having worked at a bar, I loved playing Stump the Bartender. I asked for a Burnt Toasted Almond, and then had to explain to the bartender how to make one. It was made with Amaretto, Kahlua, vodka and cream or half and half. It was another variation on the Kahlua and cream concoctions I had become fond of over the summer. I had always had unusual tastes in drinks – I was always coming up with requests for drinks like a Melon Margarita (a margarita with Midori melon liqueur), or a White Spider (white crème de menthe, crème de cacao, and vodka on the rocks). Later on, I would be wild for kir – that French concoction of white wine and cassis (a kir royale – made with sparkling wine – or a kir aux mures – made with blackberry liqueur – was even better!).
The bartenders were equal to the task – and were very offbeat. We had a good time flirting with them. We attracted more attention from our bar companions. I stacked my coat, my shopping bag, and my umbrella on a bar stool and said, “Stay.” The guy sitting one barstool over cracked, “Do you usually talk to your clothing?” His name was Skip and it turned out he was a fellow Louisianan – from New Orleans, no less. We had a conversation with him. Sarah and Jillian seemed to find him a bit stuffy and pretentious, but they still gave him our phone number at the hotel. He was going with some friends to the theatre, and invited us out with them afterward. He was going to call at 11:00.
Unfortunately, those plans fell through. When we got back to the hotel, we decided to take a little nap. When we next awakened, it was 1:00 AM. Jillian woke us up to say that she awoke to see me lying in bed, clutching the telephone receiver in my hands, still fast asleep. I don’t remember a thing (too many Burnt Toasted Almonds?), but we reasoned that the phone must have rung and I mistook it for the alarm. Adding proof to this theory was the fact that the alarm clock was also in bed with me – I had set it wrong. I wondered if Skip called, and, if he did, if I actually said anything into the phone (and if it was anything coherent!). Or, I could have just grabbed the phone and gone back to sleep.
The next morning, we had to wake up at 4:00 AM, as Jillian’s mother and grandmother were arriving at Heathrow at 6:30 that morning. Sarah had returned home, and we had retired early the night before. We were very tired, and were glad that we did not go out again, because we needed to catch up on out sleep. We got to the airport without incident (I took notes, because I was going to have to do the same thing in two days to meet Mom and William), but the plane didn’t land until 7:04, and our passengers did not come out of the gate for over a half an hour later.
Jillian’s mother and grandmother were truly from New Orleans – accent and everything! They were very sweet, and it was so kind of them to let me stay in their room. After we got back to the hotel, and they rested a bit, Jillian got to open all of the Christmas gifts that they brought from home. After that, we went out separate ways for the day – I didn’t want to butt in on Jillian’s family time. As it was, they were going to go and see touristy sites, and I was waiting to do that with Mom and William.
First, I found out that the Kenilworth, where we would be staying, was not far from the Russell Hotel. I went to check it out. It was nice, but not as nice as the Russell. I then headed to Hyde Park. I had this idea that I would go horseback riding. Never mind that I hadn’t ridden a horse in 4 month – let alone a strange horse in unfamiliar territory. I was feeling daring. I searched for the stables for over two hours. The park was beautiful, but no stables. I finally waylaid a group of riders and they informed me that the place to look was at the Mews at Hyde Park Corner. That was where I had stared out! How was I to know that Mews meant Stables? Those British! It’s like they have a different word for everything!
It had begun to drizzle, anyway, so I decided to try again the next day (I never did!) and wandered aimlessly off into a nearby neighborhood. I just figured – why not get even more lost! I must have looked like a wide-eyed innocent (tourist!), wandering around and gaping at all of the beautiful gardens and houses. I have learned that this behavior is a magnet for oddballs and molesters. Sure enough, a man stopped and began talking to me, on the pretext of sharing my umbrella while we crossed the street. He offered that he had just flown in from Geneva and was supposed to be meeting some friends at a nearby restaurant, but, unfortunately, it was closed. I wished him luck, and left him. A few minutes later, he caught up with me in his car and asked me if I needed a ride – did I have any plans? I thanked him politely and said no, so he finally gave up and left.
I looked at my map of London, which I had purchased after getting lost trying to find the Kenilworth Hotel. It looked like I was not far from the Baker Street of Sherlock Holmes fame. Unfortunately – map be damned – I took off in the wrong direction. While I was puzzling again over my map, trying to figure out why the street I had come upon wasn’t the right one, an elderly gentleman stopped and asked me if I was lost. I answered, “Terminally.” He showed me the right way, and seemed obliged to walk me there. He came along until we came to his apartment building, whereupon he looked conflicted. He actually looked like he was resigned to walking me the rest of the way. I said with confidence that I was okay (actually, I had figured out where I went wrong just before he came to my aid), and he looked relieved and left me.
When I got back to civilization, I went into a Boots, the Chemist (this was a drugstore). I came out with a British Glamour magazine and a Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut bar. I could have gotten used to living in London, I thought. I decided to go to Leicester Square, where all of the movie theatres were, and check out the offerings. I made one miscalculation on the Underground and had to retrace my stops. By the time I got to the theatre, I found that the features were after 5:00 PM. I didn’t want to get back to the hotel too late, so I decided against a movie and headed back. As I was making my way through the shops to Piccadilly Circus, a voice behind me said, “Give me all your money.”
It was Jillian. She was just leaving Maxwell’s where she took her mother and grandmother for drinks. I was hungry, so we decided to have our first “tea.” Sarah and Jillian and I had stopped by this cute place called Cupid’s the day before, but wanted alcohol, which they weren’t serving, so we left. We decided to try their tea that day. It was a charming place, with chrome chairs and tables and pink and red hearts everywhere. With our tea, we had scones. I had never had them before – to me, they were big biscuits with raisins. They were delicious, and served with strawberry jam and clotted cream. We were also given chocolate éclairs. That was supper for us!
We walked down the street to Oxford Circus, even though Jillian’s grandmother was fading. The street was decorated with lights and Disney characters. We paused to take pictures of two “bobbies” – policemen – one of them was wearing a plastic ball nose. We walked around for a while, then descended into the Tube (I didn’t think that many British people call it that… The next day was Christmas Eve, and I was counting the days until my mother was in London.
Ch. 27 – My First Christmas Alone
It was Christmas Eve, but it didn’t feel like it. Jillian and her family left for more shopping and sightseeing, and I slept in. Instead of going horseback riding (it was cold and rainy), I stayed in the hotel room and took advantage of having a television for the first time in 4 months. It was true that there was a television in one of the common rooms of the dorm, but I never watched it. I laid in bed at the Russell Hotel and watched the very end of Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown, some woman telling the story of Cinderella (the one where she is helped by birds, not a fairy godmother), and then, when I didn’t think it could get any better, The Benji Movie came on! I didn’t leave the room until noon.
I was headed back to Leicester Square to see when the movie version of Dune was showing. I managed to get sidetracked (lost), and decided to stop at a restaurant on Old Compton Street and check my map. While I was there, I had some fish and chips. They were sooooo good – I stuffed myself. I found out that the movie was at 3:00, so I had an hour or so to kill.
I walked into a shop that sold posters and greeting cards. I was very entertained by the selection of cards. The British seemed to have a thing for frog jokes – I wondered if that was a dig on the French? Anyway, there were some neat cards with jokes about frog legs and frogs in a blender – I knew that someone I knew would appreciate them. I also bought a card with a hippo on it for Pablo. It said “I’m having second thoughts about you…” and, when you open it, it says, “I had to, the first ones were so good!” I hoped it would not subliminally say, “I am turning into a hippo here in France.” Ha! I bought cards for Dad and Robert – their birthdays were coming up. I also bought some cute checkered stationary and Mae West postcards for myself, and Ferrari postcards for Marilyn.
I loved the Dune movie – but I doubt that anyone who had not read the book would have gotten it. I had read the book about 3 times, so I was not lost! What I did not love was the rude surprise that I received just before the movie. I searched my purse for my glasses, only to realize that I had left them in the fish and chips restaurant. I had already paid about $8.00 for my movie ticket, so I decided to go back and get them after the movie. When I got there, it had already closed, and I would have to wait not one, but two days to get them back – since they would be closed for Christmas.
I also realized that all of the stores were closed. I hadn’t gotten gifts for Mom or William yet – that would have to wait, too. Luckily, I had purchased small things for Jillian and her family at a souvenir shop earlier, so I wouldn’t be empty-handed. On my way back to the hotel, I walked down Oxford Street, and past Selfridge’s, a department store. They had an animated display in 10 windows of the story of 101 Dalmations. I stopped and looked at each one – then, it felt like Christmas!
I only was accosted twice while on my own. The first time was by a black guy – what is it with black guys and me? It must be my big behind… I am afraid that I was rude to him. The second guy was a hippie-type. He stopped and asked me if anyone had ever told me I looked like Barbra Streisand? I said, “Yes,” meaning, “Big deal!” but I was thinking, “Do I have a big nose, too?” I walked on, in no mood to be nice. I just wanted to be left alone to enjoy London.
Back at the hotel, I shared a light meal and a drink in the bar with Mary and company. The bar manager, Carlos, was working, and I gave him the recipe for a melon margarita. He was very obliging, and it was very good – even though he had salted the rim of the glass. I just brushed some off and drank it. Feliz Navidad!